With the new league year approaching, the attention of NFL front offices turns to Pro Days and Free Agency. In the first part of this four-part series, we'll look at how the Rams Offensive Line could be shaped by free agency.
Regardless of your stance in the Sam Bradford saga, the Rams need to revamp their OL - again - if they are going to keep ANY QB healthy. This regime has shown that they aren't afraid to make splash signings along the OL. Unfortunately, those signings haven't really worked out and the team is back at square one. Luckily, there are plenty of options available - both young and old - in Free Agency.
The Rams concluded last season with Greg Robinson, Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells, Davin Joseph, and Joe Barksdale along the OL. Among those, only G-Rob and Saffold come without questions - relatively speaking at least. Behind them, the team has a bevy of youngsters that are itching for playing time.
G-Rob has been endorsed by the front office as being the long-term solution at LT. Not much else to cover here. Barring injury (knock on wood) Robinson will be at LT for the Rams for a long time.
Mike Person and Brandon Washington are listed behind him on the depth chart. Person is actually listed all over the depth chart and carries a lot of versatility. He got a cup of tea after the Jake Long re-tore his ACL, but is more of a depth player. To be honest, I see Washington as more of a guard, even though he's listed as a backup at both tackle spots.
In the first season of his big contract, Saffold played in all 16 games for the first time since his rookie season. He continued playing well at guard and projects as a solid starter at guard for the foreseeable future.
Person is listed as his only backup.
This is where things start to get tricky. Scott Wells is clearly not the answer, and at this point it be an upset if he isn't a cap casualty. This is clearly a spot in dire need of an upgrade. The question becomes whether that upgrade is already on the roster.
The team has a trio of young, unproven players in Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones, and DeMetrius Rhaney. It all boils down to whether Fisher and Snead believe one of them is the long-term answer. If they don't, look for an upgrade from outside of the organization.
This is pretty cut and dry. Davin Joseph was a disaster and caused a clear regression in Barks' play (more on that in a second). Unless Jake Long or the aforementioned Barrett Jones changes positions, there are no options in-house fill the hole.
Again, Mike Person is the only backup listed. This is the most obvious position to be upgraded via UFA.
This is the most interesting situation to me personally. It was abundantly clear that Barksdale's play dropped off with Joseph playing beside him. I attribute much of that degradation to Joseph; he was just that bad. Barks was often on an island on the edge. While a solid player in his own right, that's not putting him in the best position to succeed.
To his credit, Barks has stated a desire to remain in St Louis, which not many players have said in recent years. However, as his UFA payday approaches, his stance on the matter has changed.
GM Les Snead said at this point it's expected that players like free agent OT Joe Barksdale will test free agent market.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) February 18, 2015
Behind him on the depth chart is Brandon Washington. What the Rams do at the position hinges on Barksdale's decision. Obviously if he walks, they will need to add depth AND find a starter.
Possible UFA Targets
LT is locked down by G-Rob, so the concern here is retaining/replacing Barks and adding depth.
Obviously, Barksdale headlines this list. If the Rams can find a way to retain him without compromising their ability to retain their own UFAs in the future, I think it would be a wise move. Pairing him with an improved RG would be the best option in my opinion.
If Barksdale doesn't return, there are other - pricier - options out there. Doug Free, Brian Bulaga, Eric Winston, and Michael Oher could all be possibilities. When looking at depth signings, the Rams best option is probably bringing back Person due to his familiarity with the system while looking at 'bargain bin' free agents (hooray!)
Again, one of the Guard slots is locked up by Saffold, so the goal here is to find someone to start opposite him while adding depth.
The man that every Rams fan has in their sights is Mike Iupati. He's not going to come cheap though. He'll likely command one of the highest interior OL salaries in the NFL, which would be in the Range of $8-9M annually. He has shown some wear over the past few years, so there is some concern about his durability. It may behoove the Rams to look elsewhere for help.
That help could come from the next tier of UFAs. Orlando Franklin, James Carpenter, Clint Boling, and Joe Reitz could all be options. They would all be an immediate upgrade over Joseph, but would come a significant savings compared to Iupati.
There are several aging veterans that could be added for depth purposes, but with the penchant for injuries among Rams offensive lineman, I'd just as soon fill depth roles with promising youngsters.
There are plenty of aging players available via UFA at center, but there are also a pair of promising youngsters available. Rodney Huston and Stefen Wisniewski offer a pair of highly intriguing options. And by intriguing I also mean expensive. Both players are still very young, but Hudson will likely command the larger contract. Hudson will likely be north of $6M annually while Wisniewski will be slightly lower than that.
Depth signings are not a priority here since there are 3 youngsters on the roster that the Rams are high on. If an UFA is brought in, look for those 3 to compete in camp for the backup spot.
The Offensive Line should be the top priority for the Rams this offseason, particularly since Snead and Fisher are going all in on Bradford - again. It should be upgraded at every opportunity and there are plenty of options in free agency to fill the many holes along the OL.
The primary concern with upgrading lies with funding. Luckily, the Rams already have the roster structure to be able to afford an expensive OL. They just have to be willing to part with their current high priced lineman. It will remain the white elephant in the room until Fisher shows the ability to reallocate those funds to younger, more effective players.